Breaking down the costs
Paramotoring is by far the least expensive form of powered flight. But because it is an aviation sport, it will never be cheap. The adage “you get what you pay for” is the best rule of thumb to follow when looking at prices. If one motor or wing is significantly cheaper or more expensive than another, there is good reason. Not to say that the cheapest gear is bad, but rather that certain performance characteristics were sacrificed to bring that gear to the market at that price point. It all depends on your wants and needs. Here we’ve tried to give you some information to be armed with when comparing equipment, but keep in mind that your instructor is going to help you with the process as well.
There are three large ticket items you must purchase to enter the sport: the paramotor, the wing, and training. Other items – typically a reserve parachute, helmet, and radio – are also necessary, and will be discussed later in this section. Let’s first cover the “big 3”, and explain why there are such huge variations in price.
The Paramotor ($5000-$10,000): These machines have become ever more complex and varied in recent years, making it daunting for the uninitiated to navigate the different pricing scenarios. The best way to try and make comparisons is to look at four different sub categories for each unit: motor type, overall system weight, features and build quality.
Engine manufacturers are in a never ending quest to attain the two most important qualities in a motor: high thrust-to-weight ratio, and high reliability. It is easy to compare the published numbers for T/W ratio, as long as the manufacturer is being honest. Each pilot needs to find the right balance between how much power they want and how much weight they are willing to carry on their back. There is an often heard rule of thumb that pilots weighing 170 lbs or less need no more than an 80-120cc motor. This is generally true for recreational flying. If the pilot intends to do specialized flying, such as racing or aerobatics, then likely a larger motor will be needed. In the smaller size engine class, the Top 80 is as proven as they get. There are certainly others however. In the larger sizes, the most reputable names are the Polini Thor and Vittorazi Moster. Again, there are plenty of others, but we feel these above named engines are excellent benchmarks for comparison.
The engine choice will set the tone for the rest of the paramotor unit. An 80cc motor will not demand the robust build of a machine sporting a 200cc motor. A strong build will naturally come with the compromise of added weight. This additional weight can be offset by the use of more expensive aircraft grade materials.
Comparing the technical specifications between paramotors is an objective process. Where it gets tricky is evaluating the build quality and features of each machine. Of course every manufacturer is going to tell you theirs is the best, and just like leaving a car dealership, you likely will be even more confused after speaking to each representative. Here are a few tips to help you sift through the sales hype:
Find out the actual weight of the machine and thrust output of the engine. The numbers don’t lie, but unfortunately many of the manufacturers do. You can find the real world data in the many forums and online articles. You should immediately eliminate any company that you discover is publishing false data.
Find out if the components of the machine have undergone certification testing. The European manufacturers take certification testing very seriously, since paramotors need to meet certain standards before they can legally fly in Europe. This is not the case in the US, and many manufacturers will skip this step to save costs. Likely you wouldn’t fly in an airplane that didn’t have an airworthiness certificate, and it would be a smart choice to apply this thinking when considering a paramotor. This also applies to the wing, as discussed below.
If you can, take a look in person at each machine you are considering. Each paramotor is vastly different from the others, and you will quickly learn a lot about what you like and don’t like in each machine by seeing them up close.
The Wing ($2500-$4000): Most new pilots start with the paramotor when looking at equipment. This makes sense, as it is the biggest ticket item. But the problem is that the paramotor search can leave many newbies a bit burned out on researching choices, and they don’t put much due diligence into their wing selection. Considering that an aircraft can fly without an engine, but not without a wing, it is justifiable to say that the wing choice is equally, if not more, important than the motor. It can be a bit discouraging to find that there are even more wings to choose from than paramotors. But not to worry, there is a method to the madness. There are four fairly straightforward parameters to consider in your wing selection: brand, amount of reflex, wing certification grade, and size.
By starting with the brand choices, you will be able to narrow the field down from dozens of options to a small handful. Brand is a very important consideration for a few reasons. First, you are putting a lot of trust into that complex system of fabric and lines over your head, and do not want to be questioning the build quality. Second, each wing has its own very distinct set of nuances, and the more pilots out there that have an understanding of your wing, the more constructive input you can be given on how to get the most out of it. Finally, when it comes time to sell your wing and move up, you want to have something that has retained a good amount of its value. For these reasons, it makes good sense to stick with the proven manufacturers. A few of the very top brands are Gin, Niviuk, Ozone and Dudek. You simply cannot go wrong with any of these. Be careful of lesser known companies, or anybody trying to sell you gear from only one brand. As noted below, avoid any manufacturers that do not go through the necessary steps to certify their wings.
Within each brand, there will only be a few wings that are paramotor specific. Here you need to make the decision whether you want a wing that will be dedicated to paramotor flying only, or something that can be used effectively for free flight as well. It’s impossible to have a wing that will be great at both, since the design parameters for the two disciplines are opposite in many ways. If you know you will only be paramotoring with this wing, then it is an easy decision. If you plan to free fly as well, then it really comes down to how much you are willing to spend. Ultimately, you would have a wing for each, but your wallet (or wife) might veto such a decision. In that case, the decision becomes easy again, and you go for one of the newer cross-discipline wings.
Now that you have decided on a brand and type of wing, you need to make sure you are getting something with a certification level that you can handle. There are two rating systems: EN and LTF. They run in parallel to each other, with EN ratings of A, B, C, and D and LTF ratings of 1, 1-2, 2, 2-3 and 3. The A and 1 wings are for schools, so you are going to be looking for a B or 1-2 wing to grow into. Don’t be tempted into a C or 2 level wing. This is asking for trouble. The higher the rating, the more performance (in speed and lift), but this comes with the very significant trade off of less desirable collapse recovery characteristics. If a wing has no certification/rating at all, you are wise to avoid it. There is significant real world data showing a large number of accidents as a direct result of an uncertified wing failing.
Finally, you need to get the appropriate size wing. Calculate the total weight of yourself and gear, including the weight of the wing. Now look at the certified weight ranges for each wing size. Ideally you are aiming for your “all up” weight to be at around 75% of the weight range. If you are choosing a cross-discipline wing, then you will want to push a bit higher into the weight range with your all up motor weight, so that you are close to the middle of the range when free flying without the motor. You don’t want to be in the lower half of the range when free flying (or motoring for that matter).
A note about package deals. Since there are so many different motors and wings, and an equal amount of variation in pilot size, skill and desired flying style, it is very rare that a pre-packaged gear combo will be an ideal match for a new pilot. Package deals are simply marketing tactics, and you will be best served by focusing on the proper gear first, and then taking advantage of the discount that should be offered on any motor/wing combo purchase.
Training (“Free” – $2500): This will be the least expensive of the big ticket items, and therefore it is the last one covered. But really it should be considered before everything else, since it will be the first thing you pay for, and most importantly, it is the foundation that you will build upon to safely enjoy the sport for many years. Good training (or the opposite) can make or break your journey.
If you have made it this far on the page, then you are putting in your time researching the sport. You are on the right track. What’s important is to look into the different training programs that are offered, and not just immediately sign up for the first one you come across (even if it’s ours). There are significant differences in the way the various schools train their students. Another important consideration are the varying personalities of the different instructors. There is no one-size-fits-all instructor or training program. It is up to the student to perform their due diligence in finding the right match for them. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.
The average training cost is $1500. It generally shouldn’t be necessary to pay more, unless other costs such as lodging are included. As you probably guessed, there is no such thing as “free” training. Like the package deals, this is just a marketing tactic. You are going to pay for your training in one form or another. In the case of free training, you will simply pay a higher margin on the equipment you purchase.
Other gear: Expect to spend $800-$1300 on your reserve parachute, $200-$500 on a helmet, and about $200 for a radio. The price variation on the helmet comes down to whether or not you want electronic noise reduction and “sidetone” (so you can hear your voice when you transmit). The price range for your reserve parachute is based upon size and the choice between standard or lightweight fabric. If you can swing it, get the lightweight option. Not only will you notice a weight difference, but the pack volume is greatly reduced. An important note about lightweight reserves: as of the time of this writing (summer 2014), we can only recommend the Gin Yeti Rescue and Beamer 3 lightweight reserves. This is based upon documented sink rates. The Beamer 3 has the absolute best sink rate of the L/W reserves, and is steerable, but is also the most expensive. We feel it is well worth the price.
It is our hope that what we have written here has helped clear up some of the confusion that is inevitable when trying to absorb a lot of new information. Please feel free to contact us with any of your questions.